By Terry Eliasen, Meteorologist, WBZ-TV Exec. Weather Producer

BOSTON (CBS) – All the eyes of the weather world are on Hurricane Irene, currently churning in the very warm waters just north of the Dominican Republic.

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As of 8 a.m. Tuesday Irene had sustained winds at its core of 100mph, making it a Category 2 hurricane on the Saffir Simpson Scale.

Follow: Hurricane Irene’s Track

Irene is forecast to strengthen over the next 24-to-48 hours as it makes its way through the Bahama Island chain.

WBZ-TV’s Lisa Hughes spoke with hurricane hunter Paul Flaherty:

It will likely reach at least Category 3 status (major hurricane with winds 111-130mph) and possibly Category 4 (winds 131-155mph).

Category 3 and 4 hurricanes can cause catastrophic damage.

Unfortunately, some areas in the Bahamas are likely to see some devastating impacts from Irene in the next few days.

Irene will emerge from the Bahamas early Friday morning, likely still as a major hurricane and start to turn nearly directly northward up the East Coast.

THE DIFFERENCE

Here is where the track becomes vital.

A slight shift in Irene’s steering currents will make a huge difference for coastal residents from the Carolinas to New England.

Weakening is unlikely at this stage for many reasons.

First, the water temperatures off the southeast U.S. are very warm. Irene will likely feed off of the warm Gulf Stream.

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Second, there is very little wind shear forecast. Many times when hurricanes move into northern latitudes the winds at upper levels of the atmosphere are much stronger and they can rip a tropical system apart. This does not appear likely to happen.

Finally, there is no real source of dry air. Many times dry air can get drawn into these large storms and sap the energy out of it. Not this time.

As of right now, the most likely spot for landfall from Irene appears to be in coastal North Carolina, in the vicinity of Wilmington very late Saturday night.

ENERGY SOURCE

When hurricanes make landfall they almost immediately begin to weaken because their primary source of energy is the warm ocean waters.

The longer that the eye of Irene is over land before it reaches New England the weaker it will be.

Another reason why the exact track is so important – if the eye of the storm stays just offshore of North Carolina, Irene would stand a much greater chance of holding together as it approaches southern New England.

Either way Irene is likely to weaken some as it nears our latitude due to the colder Atlantic waters, but as we have seen in the past (as recently as 1991 with Hurricane Bob) if there are not atmospheric forces working to weaken the hurricane it can still pack a very significant punch for our area.

Because this is still a very real possibility, everyone in southern New England should begin to take some precautions in preparation for Irene.

SUNDAY GREATEST CONCERN

Sunday appears to be the day of greatest concern here in New England, when the majority of rain and wind would occur.

Coastal residents should consider protecting their homes and securing outdoor objects.

Boaters should also have a plan in place for their vessels this weekend.

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Again, nothing is certain at this point, but New England is likely to feel some affect from Irene. Our weather team will keep you posted every step of the way.